Lately I can’t seem to turn around without someone telling me how I or potential dates can pass the buck when it comes to my love life. Happy Valentine’s Day! Case in point: Funspotter, a new app I was recently pitched in a PR email that said, in part: “For some couples, Valentine’s Day is a reminder that men suck at knowing what women want. But now, there’s an app for that. Funspotter is like Pinterest for dating – women can scroll through date ideas in their city to create a wish list and then (this is the best part) the app will send those date ideas to her partner in an email. It’s just up to the guy to make it happen. That’s a win-win for everyone: the ladies get a date they love and the gentlemen get to look like Don Juan.”
Setting aside the fact that women go on dates with women and men go on dates with men too, there’s a more fundamental problem with this kind of outsourcing: it homogenizes dating. I don’t want my boyfriend to take me somewhere because I sent him a list where I chose amongst preprogrammed options, and he then chose based on the narrow parameters I gave him, but because one of us was passionate about where we were going.
For instance, sure, you could go to a comedy show at Caroline’s, one of Funspotter’s suggestions, but you could also go see something like Tinder Live with Lane Moore at The Knitting Factory a few blocks down from my former home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she takes the audience through “real-time swiping.” This week she’s hosting cast members from Orange Is The New Black. If a date took me to something like that, I would be suitably impressed.
Now, I don’t expect everyone I meet, or even my boyfriend of three years, to know everything about me or my tastes. I doubt my guy even knows that I used to go to four or more comedy shows a week and ran a comedy blog. But if they do, and then they take me to a more out-of-the-way comedy show, I’d appreciate it not because I’m a comedy snob who’s fundamentally opposed to Caroline’s, but because they took the effort to find a date that is a little more unusual, the kind that took more than the click of a button to find.
Or take Sam Jones, a retail worker in the UK who’s making money on eBay writing love letters for strangers. On the one hand, good for her for bringing in some extra income. On the other, here’s an example The Mirror gives of the kind of letter she’s being asked to write: “My most recent request was from a girlfriend, who didn’t know what to write to her boyfriend. I asked if he had any fantasies and she said he had a thing for being kidnapped and unspeakable things being done to him.” Even if the recipient never finds out the work was farmed out to Jones, there’s still something disturbing to me about the lack of personalization. For the record, I’d rather get nothing for Valentine’s Day than get a card from either a long-time partner or someone who had a crush that they themselves didn’t write.
Here’s the thing: when I fall for someone, or am wooed by someone, or am going on a date with someone, what I want most is to learn about and explore who they are, not who they are filtered through an algorithm or another person’s brain. I may be into things like theater, trivia and bingo, but if you’re into something I’ve never heard of, or even something I don’t think I’ll enjoy, all the better, because it’s new and it’s you. That doesn’t mean I’ll always want to partake of what my date wants. If my boyfriend tried to take me to a cigar bar, I would probably pass out or throw up. Cigars are his thing. But if he’s going to a movie I would never see on my own but that he’s enthusiastic about, I’ll check it out because I want to see what makes him tick.
I admire ingenuity and passion that comes from the heart. It’s not that I think every date idea should be completely crafted out of your brain without external assistance. Of course we are all influenced by what we see, hear about and read. That’s fine. But I would hope that, if a relationship is just starting out, or even if it’s a first date, you know enough about the person you’re trying to romance to be willing to take a risk and plan a date they may or may not like, rather than have them literally send you a list. I feel the same way about gifts; my favorite part of gift giving is coming up with something the person would love, but wouldn’t have thought to put on their list. For me, that rule applies to dates too; I like when someone goes out of their way to introduce me to something I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own.
One of my favorite dates my boyfriend and I have been on happened last year. We drove about twenty minutes to his favorite Jersey Shore boardwalk and proceeded to walk up and down, playing skee ball, eating bad for us foods, admiring the view of the Atlantic Ocean and him going completely above and beyond to win me a stuffed unicorn from the claw machine. It wasn’t fancy or extraordinary, but one thing I loved about it is the boardwalk is special to him; he makes it a point to go every year. That was our second time together, and I felt welcomed into his annual tradition. I do happen to enjoy a good game of Whack-a-Mole, but even if the boardwalk wasn’t my thing, I’d appreciate the fact that it was his thing, not an app’s.
I’m not against technology or looking things up to help your love life, but there’s a difference between having someone else express what should ideally be deeply personal thoughts or an app doing so. Though I am clearly not the biggest fan of the institution of marriage, I consider myself ridiculously romantic and sappy. I think we underestimate the appeal of quirk and charm, of flaunting who you are when it comes to dating. Everyone you go out with may not appreciate your uniqueness, but if they don’t, find someone who does. Unfortunately, there’s no app that I know of that will tell you what makes you unique; you have to look inward to figure that out.